The Expressive Technique (aka Dumbledore’s Pensive)

When my mind or my heart gets too full and I finally start listening to what my body needs, I inevitably find myself in my studio. As an interdisciplinary artist, I have many avenues at my disposal to get whatever is rattling around my brain outside of me. They are not mechanical techniques or well-practiced procedures, instead this is the time when pens, paintbrushes, and guitar strings become a crude instrument for removing weight that I don’t want to carry around right now.

This is, perhaps, the most important part of art. Thankfully, it’s also the part that the most people have access to. It takes training and practice, yes, but not in intellectually guarded mechanical techniques. Instead, this is the technique of expression. It requires the practice of things that everyone has access to: listening, vulnerability, trust, patience, kindness, and courage.

When I step back and look at the final product, following the expressive technique has produced both my worst and best art. The sentimental and the sublime. Normally, when I’m in the thick of expression, I can’t tell which is which and if I start thinking about the product, it ends up stymying the expression. Instead, I think about how to squeeze out every drop of discomfort that I have been carrying around. And if I do that, it’s working.

Art, at its best, is a vehicle through which we can temporarily relieve ourselves of the weight of our lives. Like Dumbledore at his Pensive, we extract thoughts from our mind through something not quite so different from magic. Then, once they are outside of us, we can stand back and examine them with a little more distance and a lot more compassion.

Unlike Dumbledore’s magic, it takes skill to be able to extract our thoughts through creativity. Artists are the ones who have spent the time learning expressive techniques and mechanical techniques, knowing when, how, and what to turn the weight of their souls into.

Throughout time, the artists who have made their way into our collective memories are the ones who have mastered the interweaving of these two styles and left us amazed at their mechanical mastery and humbled my their expressive capacity.

This is what great art can do: a single person’s expression can model for a multitude what it’s like to draw your life’s weight outside of yourself so that you have a little more room to breathe. How many times have each of us driven heartbroken down the highway only to turn on the radio or pop in the CD that gives voice to what is trapped inside of us? Or been so filled with joy that we need an expansive soundtrack in order to fully express it?

Imagine what would happen if more of us were trained and given the permission to try our hand at that expression, even if what we end up creating is objectively terrible. Isn’t it enough to use expression to relieve ourselves of our own weight, even just for a little while? Isn’t it amazing if, by some small change, it helps someone else with their burdens along the way?

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